Risen (Windows)

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Written by  :  Jeanne (76599)
Written on  :  Apr 19, 2010
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  3.71 Stars3.71 Stars3.71 Stars3.71 Stars3.71 Stars

20 out of 23 people found this review helpful

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This Gothic-inspired game almost makes the grade

The Good

Anyone who has played the Gothic games will immediately feel at home in "Risen". After the franchise was acquired by JoWood in 2007, Piranha Bytes' first effort after that split is impressive. "Risen" is essentially Gothic reborn.

The world of "Risen" is confined to one island, but that island is full of life. The majority of the population inhabits one town, a monastery and a bandit camp, but there is quite a lot in between. More people live in other areas working on farms or stationed in encampments. From coast to coast, you'll be exploring a diverse landscape in addition to the main populated sections including sandy beaches, dense forests, misty bogs, babbling brooks with waterfalls, rocky high mountain peaks, remote farmlands, strange ancient ruins, and secret caves.

Graphically, the world is gorgeous - every blade of grass, leaf and rock is impeccably realistic. When the sun rises and sets, you can't help but be awed by the color in the sky and the moon and stars at night. The island's tropical atmosphere is given more personality with the intermittent shaking and rumbling of earthquakes and the occasional rain shower. Rivers shimmer with moving water and you can almost feel the spray from the waterfalls.

"Risen" is non-linear, meaning you and your "nameless hero" are free to go everywhere and explore at will from the start. You can choose your difficulty level during the "new game" process, always a nice feature. The level chosen appears to determine the number of enemies that randomly appear in the game rather than their overall strengths.

Many other features are familiar including points accumulation for assignment to various skills, and the no-weight-limit inventory and its organization into categories. The quest log is more similar to Gothic 3 and has map markers. Gone are the long lag times experienced by some in Gothic 3. Inventory is organized into groups, but is in full color now.

There are some great new creatures and monsters in this game, and each type has a specific style of fighting. Cute but deadly gnomes, lurking ghouls with sharp claws, huge scorpions, monstrous ogres, large winged creatures, frightening gorilla-like ash beasts plus the armour-clad lizard men are just a few of the creatures to be faced. (I'm so happy to report that there are no orcs in this game!) Straying off the path could mean meeting up with a much stronger enemy; one that can't be beaten until later in the game. These battles, plus many of the quests, make for frequent trips back to areas already visited.

The combat system has been revamped, and it seems better and more balanced to me, although it is still the same in concept. Fighting is still a challenge, and you can be surprised or surrounded of course. Practice and learning the techniques of the different enemies are key. The power of your armor is recognized, and your strength and skill level with your chosen weapon determine the power behind your strike and the moves you can make.

Speaking of armor, in "Risen" armor is gained with achievement rather than something you can buy from a merchant. Shields and a few helmets can be purchased or found, but not main armor. When you complete one of the major quests, higher level armor will be offered to you, for a price, and automatically worn when acquired. I'm not certain I particularly liked that, but it seemed to work okay.

There are two distinct factions vying for control of the island. Quests completed for NPCs in Harbour Town and the Monastery will eventually align you with one of the two as well as determine the profession of your character. What I particularly liked is that it is not specifically about which is good or evil. Both factions seem to have the same goal (to save the island), but have different means in mind to attain that goal. Luckily the game keeps up with your choices so you can complete a good portion towards one and then try the other before finalizing it.

Ultimately you will join either the Bandits or become a Mage or Warrior for the "Order of the Flame". This decision directly effects how the game is played, how NPCs respond to you during conversations, and how your character develops overall. However, that alignment does not limit you to learning other skills. For instance, you can still use experience points to add Alchemy and Staff Fighting to a Bandit's repertoire of skills, or Lockpicking for a Mage. This type of diversity is great and lets you become the character you want to be.

There are a bunch of other things to keep you busy in "Risen". Read books to gain wisdom. Cook raw meat over a campfire or stir it in a cauldron with herbs and vegetables to make healthy stews. Dig up buried treasure. Make magical jewelry as a goldsmith. It's nice that any type of character can use magic scrolls. In fact, it's necessary to do so to complete the game.

The music in "Risen" is somewhat classical and medieval and is pleasant to listen to, although I must admit not paying much attention to it. The sound effects are good, especially those of the monsters. Memorable is the roar of an ash beast which reverberated from a distance, and the chatter of the cute-but-vicious gnomes. The combination of professional actors and excellent script writing resulted in marvelous conversations with little or no monotony.

The game is divided into 4 Chapters. The main quest is clear and the sub quests get you there. Naturally there are some incidental sub quests that don't further the plot. Most of those help to earn experience points towards adding to your skill set, though, and are therefore worthwhile. Others are sub-steps to help you get a needed item or gain entrance to an area barred to you, and so you must do those. All give you levelling points, but I can recall only a thimbleful of quests that seemed needless or tedious.

The Bad

After the raves in the above section, you've probably gathered that I really enjoyed playing "Risen". For all the accolades, though, it is not perfect.

There are a good number of women in "Risen", most with minor parts. They have various professions (barmaid, housewife, prostitutes etc.) and different clothing, but ultimately they all look and sound alike. There is little, if any, diversity to their shape (i.e. every one of them had the same bra size).

Speaking of characters, the town and the monastery are pleasant enough, but they lack the vibrancy and NPC character development that gives other games such pizazz. The population is diverse, and the conversations are original and entertaining, but essentially there is nothing to keep you interested in them. Even your main character is aloof with no past - a blank slate. There is nothing here to get you emotionally involved.

The DVD needs to sit in the drive at all times. That's fine, but sometimes clicking on the desktop icon didn't work. The disc wasn't recognized! Luckily simply opening and closing the drive brought up the start menu and the "Play" selection. This is a minor thing, but a design flaw that should have been fixed before release.

It took me about a month to get to the Final Big Boss in "Risen". After all that time, after all the effort, the final fight should be a culmination of everything that came before it. A fight to end all fights in the game. Right? Unfortunately that's not the case. The finale is a huge disappointment. I won't spoil it for you, but in my opinion it has nothing to do with power and skill and everything to do with reflex action and luck. To make it even worse, after you are victorious, the game just .. ends .. abruptly. It leaves you wondering what happened to the rest of the island and the remaining people. That is completely unacceptable and unforgivable for a game that is otherwise so good!

The Bottom Line

Gothic fans will enjoy "Risen" because its heart and soul are Gothic. It has a little bit of each game built into it plus it improves upon the earlier games and adds a few new enhancements.

Roaming freely across a beautiful landscape, different quests and fighting styles between the factions, various types of skills to learn, its replayability, bug-free - all these make for a fun experience. I'd say that 90% of "Risen" is absolutely fantastic.

It takes more besides beauty and challenging gameplay to make a great game. A good story must have a tantalizing beginning, a progressively interesting middle and a satisfying conclusion. "Risen" got the first two right, but then slams you to the floor with its shoddy ending. It's a damn shame!

Many people have played through the game two and three times just to see what's different in each of the professions. For me, once was enough. I mean, what's the point? Better luck next time, Piranha Bytes. Personally, I'm moving on.